slacking employee

The Challenge:  For employees who are passionate about excelling in their job and career, having to pick up someone else’s slack at work who is making them look bad, frequently makes green smoke come out of their ears!  So when a colleague misses deadlines and produces sub-standard work, all while risking success of the project and the team’s goals, what should you do?  Confront them?  Speak to your manager?  Mind your own business?  Do the work yourself and cover for them so you don’t end up looking bad too?  Quit?


How To Make a “Go/No-go” Decision on Whether to Act:  We’ve all faced this dilemma at some time or another.  If you haven’t, no worries.  It’s a-coming soon!  You first will need to decide if the situation is a priority for you to handle.  In other words, does the risk of you not PERSONALLY addressing the issue far outweigh the benefits of just focusing on what is in your control and continuing to ignore them slacking off.  Give yourself 5 minutes (yes, only 5), and list out the top pros and cons which come to mind on whether or not to take action.  If you determine that the perception of your job performance is suffering because of your colleague’s behavior,  you must take action.


How To Plan for Action:  If the right decision is to take action, then you should spend time sketching out a plan before you act.  There are 2 main areas to think about:  Your colleague’s commitment and competency.

  • Commitment refers to how they feel towards the company, the project, or the team (how relevant the work to them)
  • Competency refers to how well they know what to do (knowledge), how to do it (skills), and the right next steps to take (ability to act)

In your pre-planning, try to come up with non-threatening questions which will jumpstart the conversation on these two topics.

  • For example, as it relates to commitment, they may have issues with the current direction of the department and fundamentally disagree with how the team is moving forward.  In this case, you may prepare a question such as, “How do you think the work we are doing as a team now will guide our next year’s team goals?  Do you think we are on the right track?”  Another potential commitment issue may have nothing to do with the company.  They may be going through personal issues, like relationship troubles or illness.  A sample question you could prepare is, “I’ve noticed that you seem to be less engaged with this project than you used to be. Are there ways that I could help?”
  • Similarly for competency concerns, you could prepare a question such as, “I know this project is very complex, so I wanted to check in confidentially with you to see if there was any guidance or information that you need to knock your piece of the project “out of the park”?”
Courtesy of Marissa Brassfield

Courtesy of Marissa Brassfield

Advice on Taking Action:  Now, it’s time to get off your bum and take action!  But before you start, here are a few tidbits of advice:

  • Diagnose First Before Judging:  As part of the conversation with your colleague, take the time to diagnose the true issue of the substandard performance and be genuinely willing to help them overcome the obstacles.  Don’t forget that success is both a win for you and a win or them.  If  your intervention works, you’re a hero.  If it doesn’t, it gives you the power to be able to articulate a story for help or needed change to your boss.
  • Be Direct, but Professional in Your Feedback:   Focus on the behavior and not them personally.  There is often more going on below the surface, on a personal level. It is important not to jump to immediate conclusions. Having a dialogue with them in a fact finding and non-threatening way, is key.
  • Be prepared to take action:  Don’t open up the conversation if you are not willing to take the lead in helping to close the gap and to provide ongoing feedback.  Also remember to keep you commitment time-bound.  (You don’t want to get caught in helping the person for 6 months!)


Example Conversations:  Ok, so these may seem a little corny, but you get the idea, in the spirit of helpfulness in getting your brain cooking!

Example 1:  “Bob, I’m not feeling good right now on the way our project is going and it is important that as team leader, I be honest and transparent with you on the perceptions of your contributions thus far.  The overwhelming perception is that your current contributions are having far less impact than most of the other members.  Now, I know you have the capabilities of being a “rock star” because I was truly impressed on how effectively you accomplished “X” (previous project assignment).  I’m not sure of the gap between then and now, but I would love to hear your thoughts and what we can do in the short-term, say the next 2-3 weeks to turn around the perceptions. ”

Example 2:  If the person still doesn’t see the issue, try giving a performance-based example:  “Let me give you an example, Bob.  You had a deadline of X for your piece of the project.  But the piece was not turned in until three days later than the due date.  As a result, the team had to do X, Y and Z, which resulted in _____(talk about negative impact).


What’s at Risk For You:  Being proactive in addressing a colleague who is not carrying their weight does come with its risks.  Don’t be surprised if things like the following happen:  Being accused of not being a “team player”, losing that colleague as a friend, being perceived as YOU are the one who is not pulling their weight, being perceived as “overbearing” or “micro-managing”, etc.  It comes with the territory.


The “Double-Take Effect”- What High Potential Professionals Do Differently Than their Peers: 

Remember, some colleagues will “get” what you are trying to do to help them.  Others will not.  It is critical that you plan for and be prepared to act decisively, no matter what.   High Potentials take control of the situation vs letting the situation take control of them.  They have learned that physically doing the work of others themselves (without the bosses or team members knowing) is the kiss of death.

Note:  If it becomes necessary for you to step in and pick up the slack for the sake of the project, be sure to ask your boss what should come off your plate while you are completing the additional work.  We can’t guarantee anything will come off your plate, but it does start the conversation about work-life balance and set up the expectation with your management chain that your double-duty should be short-term vs occurring indefinitely.



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